Oct. 7: The other tragedy
The terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas, which left 1,300 Israelis dead, thousands wounded, and dozens of families terrified over the fate of almost 200 hostages, will reinforce trends that have been apparent for some time in Israel. Those trends are opposed to the aspirations of the Palestinians.
The Israeli forces’ bombardment and siege of Gaza, which has killed and wounded countless innocent Palestinians, would perhaps have taken place under any administration, given the pain suffered on October 7. But on top of the human tragedy, there is a political tragedy–the near certainty that given the dominant forces in Israeli society and politics today, any hope of a solution to the Palestinian question has been indefinitely canceled.
Regardless of the security failure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and the blame that many place on his shoulders, his views and those of his extreme right coalition partners will seem vindicated. Many Jews will be confirmed in their convictions that any concessions on the Palestinian question threaten their existence and that, as the president of Israel put it, all Palestinians are to blame.
Palestinian politics in the occupied territories has been dominated by internal strife, and on many occasions in the last 15 years, including during the “Arab Spring,” protesters have taken to the streets against their own authorities. Gaza and the West Bank have had no elections since 2006; the Gazans have been under the dictatorship of Hamas, an Islamist group, while Mahmoud Abbas has run the West Bank from Fatah. (A large majority of Gazans today were either not born or were too young to vote in 2006.) This period has coincided with a strengthening of forces in Israel working against a long-term solution to the Palestinian question. That has reinforced Hamas and other jihadists.
Netanyahu campaigned in 1996 against the Oslo Accords of 1993, signed under the leadership of Yitzhak Rabin of Israel and Yasser Arafat of Fatah, which set the stage for two states after a transition. (Those accords cost Rabin his life when a Jewish extremist assassinated him.) Once in government, Netanyahu worked against the transition through the expansion of the illegal settlements in the West Bank. From 1993 to 2000, the Israeli settler population in the West Bank, if we exclude East Jerusalem, grew from 100,00 to 200,000. The number has continued to grow, not to mention the roadblocks, checkpoints, and the 700-kilometer Israeli wall/fence that has turned the West Bank into a suffocating labyrinth.
Nevertheless, a golden opportunity to reach a peace agreement came under Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000, when he and Arafat were invited to negotiate at Camp David. Those negotiations, meant to give substance to the Oslo Accords, failed when Arafat tragically rejected a proposal to create a Palestinian state on a little less than the amount of land taken in the 1967 war.
The failure of Camp David gave rise to the second intifada. For Arafat, who had been playing a double game–violence and negotiations–and was the undisputed leader of the Palestinians, that meant waiting until the Israelis tired of fighting and came back to the table. For Israel, it was much more momentous because it meant the marginalization of leaders and political currents favorable to a lasting solution and the shift of Jewish fundamentalism from the margins of Israeli politics to the core. The apotheosis came in 2022 when Netanyahu allied himself with fanatics such as Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of Jewish Power (who has been convicted of supporting a terrorist group and charged with hate speech), and Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionist Party and known for his supremacist public statements.
During the first three decades of Israel’s existence, its politics were dominated by secular Jews–until Menachem Begin’s victory in 1977. Since then, the mix of religion and politics, partly due to the emergence of non-Ashkenazis who resented the liberal élites, has grown exponentially.
These are the hands into which Hamas’s brutal killings have played.
Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute. His latest book is “Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization and America.” He wrote this for InsideSources.com.